April 21, 2014

The culture and roster have changed, so what’s the Tribe’s next move?

It has been quite the offseason for the Indians. From the day Manny Acta was fired, the Dolan Family Ownership pushed forward with a new era for their downtrodden organization. Many scoffed (me included) when it was decided that Team President Mark Shapiro and GM Chris Antonetti would stay on board to oversee the changes that were about to come. Just over three months later, Antonetti has come through with a vengeance.

The hiring of Terry Francona changed everything for this organization. He was quoted as saying he only took the job because of the the opportunity to work with two men who would be his bosses, Shapiro and Antonetti. It was never said, but it is widely assumed now that Francona received some sort of assurances from ownership that there would be money to spend to upgrade the roster. Armed with Tito’s sterling reputation as a manager everyone wants to play for, the Indians began the transformation.

Mike Aviles was brought in as an uber-utility man. They chased Shane Victorino at the winter meetings. Mark Reynolds was added to be the team’s first baseman and right-handed power threat. Then, the big moves came. Fan favorite Shin-Soo Choo was sent packing to Cincinnati in a deal to that brought OF Drew Stubbs, relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers, and the biggest piece of the Tribe’s future, top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. Up next was the biggest free agent signing in Indians history, former Yankee OF Nick Swisher took $54 million and arrived with the biggest smile that any of us have seen here in years. The enthusiasm in his Welcome to Cleveland press conference was something special. That day it really felt as though the Indians were truly on their way back.

Things wrapped up last week with the addition of starting pitcher Brett Myers.

There has been a roster change, but most importantly within three months, a culture change down at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. It’s hard to fathom that without Francona being brought in, any of this would have happened. People seem excited again about Indians baseball in Cleveland.

So what’s next?

The Asdrubal Cabrera trade rumors seem to have subsided for now and it looks as though he will be the Tribe’s starting shortstop on opening day. Chris Perez’s value is still high, but with free agent closers like Brian Wilson, Jose Valverde, and Rafael Soriano still on the market, its tough to see the Indians getting market value for him if they choose to deal him.

If you look at the roster as it stands, there are still holes to fill. The rotation will be headed by Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Myers. Zach McAllister is said to have a “leg up” on the fourth spot, but I can’t imagine him not being there. The final spot looks to be a battle between Carlos Carrasco (coming off of Tommy John Surgery), Corey Kluber, and Bauer. The Indians would love for Bauer to spend more time in AAA to start the season and that seems to be their plan. David Huff may be tried out as a left-handed reliever, as he is out of options and down on the starting rotation food chain.

Speaking of the pen, the Indians are loaded with good options and could use one of them to deal for another bat. If Perez is on the roster, he is locked in as the closer, with Vinnie Pestano as the eighth inning guy. Joe Smith, Albers, and Shaw, along with lefty Nick Hagadone are pretty much guaranteed spots. That leaves Cody Allen, Frank Herrmann, Scott Barnes, and Huff battling for one or two spots.

The biggest question mark as we sit today is clearly the DH spot and how the Indians will use it.

When Aviles was brought over from Toronto, Antonetti said the plan was to use Aviles all over the diamond. The Tribe hasn’t been able to figure out the infield utility spot for the past couple of years. Jason Donald was a failure and the Brent Lillibridge experience wasn’t to anyone’s liking. Aviles, a veteran who played for and was a favorite of Francona, should quell that issue. He can play second, short, and third, and hits right-handed. As things go today, Aviles will be rotated in the three spots, allowing Jason Kipnis, Cabrera, and Lonnie Chisenhall to rest their legs in the DH spot, which I think is a smart move. We all have seen how Cabrera in particular has worn down the past two seasons in the second half. Kipnis struggled in the second half of 2012 as well, moving from .277/.345/.764 to .233/.322/.650 after the break. Chisenhall’s glove, while improved, is still a work in progress.

With the second Russ Canzler DFA coming last week, in-house candidates to win the DH job should the Indians decide to go a different direction that the Aviles route discussed include Rule 5 draftee Chris McGuiness, and former Blue Jays Mike McDade and Yan Gomes. Gomes is the most intriguing and has a great shot at making the opening day roster as a bench guy. He plays both corner infield spots but spent most of his time catching for AAA Las Vegas last year.

Another name has been kicked around of late in the Indians search for a DH – Travis Hafner. Yep, good ole’ Pronk is still out there and available, probably for peanuts. While when healthy, Hafner can still get on base, we’ve seen that movie 1,000 times. Having Hafner clogging up a roster spot when he can do nothing but hit against right-handed pitching when he actually stays healthy, makes zero sense. The guy hasn’t played more than 118 games in a season in six years. They finally walked away from Grady Sizemore. Turning their backs on a Pronk return is the smart play. Two other names have been floated as well – Luke Scott and Jim Thome. But at this point, neither is a better option than the Aviles plan.

Will they go out and add another bat? Will they potentially add another starting pitcher like say, Shawn Marcum? Will they hold Perez and Cabrera? We will find out soon enough, but the Indians have proved that in their most important offseason in a decade, they mean business.

photo via AP/David Richard

  • Garry_Owen

    Happy with this DH plan.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I feel the tone has changed not the culture, yet. The culture will change once some games are played and hopefully with them some victories.

    On a side note…the ad for Cincinnati State is driving me bloody crazy already!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Btw I believe Adam LaRoche is still available. He plays 1B but between him, Reynolds and Santana you’d have a nice group for both 1B and DH. In an emergency Reynolds could also play a little third base his original position with the Diamondbacks. Although I wouldn’t advise him playing there alot because he was brutal defensively.

  • JeBron_Lames

    Best Tribe offseason in a looooong time. Can’t wait!

  • http://twitter.com/GreatestHurley Jason Hurley

    I’m a huge fan of having a rotating DH for our position players and not clogging up a roster spot with a guy like Hafner. I think it makes the most sense given our lack of a 35+ HR big-swinging DH on the roster.

  • JeBron_Lames

    J
    Just signed with the Nats.

  • mgbode

    Swisher 4yrs/$56mil or Victorino 3yrs/$39mil or Pagan 4yrs/$40mil or BJ Upton 5yrs/$75mil

    Seems like we got the best deal of those, no? (maybe BJ but that’s depending on development)

    ————————

    guys left I wouldn’t mind who may come cheap on a 1yr prove-it deal:

    Kelly Johnson (2B – power guy w/ some speed could be decent DH and possibly a needed guy if we do eventually trade Asdrubal)

    Carlos Zambrano – like I said, a 1yr prove-it deal. nothing more. likelihood is that he’d end up busting and get cut, but he is just 2yrs removed from a 9yr run as a very useful (and sometimes dominant) pitcher.

    Chris Young – though injuries have made him a 6IP guy and only when he doesn’t get blown up before then. he can be serviceable though.

  • mgbode

    I’d love LaRoche, but I think he’s going to be asking for much more $$ than we are willing to spend at this point. $3mil and under guys are the ones to look at this point.

  • mgbode

    in that case, let the Asdrubal for Morse rumors begin (if we can get Morse to agree to an extension, of course):

    http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/blog/mlb-rumors/21516189/report-nationals-adam-laroche-agree-to-a-twoyear-deal

    By signing LaRoche, the Nationals have put themselves in a bit of a roster crunch. With Jayson Werth, Denard Span and Bryce Harper set to roam the outfield, the team now has Michael Morse
    and LaRoche at first. Morse was rumored to be a trade candidate if the
    team re-signed LaRoche, so the Nationals may look to go that route.

  • @TheDeePagel

    But with Desmond at SS, and Espinosa keeping 2B warm until Rendon’s ready, I see the Nats wanting nothing but young SPs for Morse.

  • dwhit110

    The plan hinges on Gomes, McGuiness, or McDade being able to hit a little (unless you want a utility IF ultimately taking all of our DH ABs, which doesn’t really excite me.) I wouldn’t hate bringing Hafner back as $1MM, 300AB vs righties type. If you’re not asking him to play everyday it eases some of the injury concerns, and I think it’s still a useful club to have in the bag.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I’ll have some Morse of that, please! (hyuck hyuck)

  • mgbode

    depends if Desmond can replicate his 126OPS+ from last year or if he goes back to his ~85 OPS+ days (2010 and 2011 seasons)

  • vespo09

    They may look to trade Morse, but I think it’s just as likely that they’re looking to have Werth, Span, Harper and Morse cover the outfield, Morse and LaRoche cover first.

    Think of it as Span replacing Bernardina, rather than Span replacing Morse. If they do hold onto Morse, it will be 5 guys for 4 positions, which is just solid depth and one day off a week for those guys, which isn’t horrible with Morse’s injury record and LaRoche’s age.

    Finally, while Cabrera is certainly an upgrade over Ian Desmond at short, I don’t think the Nationals are ready to give up on Desmond yet. He improved in 2012 from 2011.

    -Indians fan living in DC

  • vespo09

    More likely RPs, but yes.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I concur.
    -Indians fan living 100 miles south of DC

  • Vindictive_Pat

    It’s tough to argue that the moves we’ve seen so far are anything but a huge positive. I still can’t believe the Tribe pulled in all of those quality players and the only person of consequence that they lost was Choo (who has always been vastly overrated for my taste). I can’t wait to see what kind of difference just having Francona and his staff makes. I mean look at the difference it made for the Orioles… since Buck Showalter has been there, they have been a completely different (and better) team. We can talk player sabermetrics all we want, but I think too often we fail to see the difference a new manager/staff can make in contributing to those sabermetric changes.

  • mgbode

    yeah, a long-shot. good points all around.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Bummer I heard the BoSox were interested in him too.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t know if the Indians can afford to trade AsCab right now. I think it would weaken the lineup and create a hole at SS that wouldn’t be needed eventhough Aviles was signed. If they do trade AsCab I’d think pitching, starting pitching would be involved in return.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Young would seem to be the kind of SP the Indians would take a flyer on these days. When he’s not hurt he actually pitches pretty well. Did Marcum sign with anyone yet?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I always like Buck wish he’d have been given a chance here way back. On the bright side Francona is here now so better late then never as far as an actual proven winning manager goes.

  • Kildawg

    I have shared the same sentiments. using Aviles and Gomes/Marson to rotate our regular infielders for half-days is a good plan, especially when doubleheaders are figured in. Plus, the Indians would technically be carrying 3 catchers, but two of them can play 1B and DH occasionally as well. Detroit better look out, another slow start for them means we have a very solid chance of winning the division.

  • Kildawg

    Yankees already interested in Morse to try to replace Nick Swisher. Of course it is ESPN New York generated, plus the Yankees throw money at anyone they want.

  • @TheDeePagel

    Yes true. But still don’t see them sitting him for Cabrera and losing Morse who could land them larger needs. Cabrera has his own questions too.

  • @TheDeePagel

    I am not sure it is a slam dunk upgrade. I’d have to think very hard on who I’d want at SS between those two options.

  • @TheDeePagel

    Another guy I would like who would be VERY cheap as a one-year option at DH is Aubrey Huff. Medication derailed him last year, and reports are he is back and ready to roll. He is 36, but is a veteran, has power, and has raked against LHP during his career. We could sneak out one more 20-HR season from him.

  • mgbode

    one is 27yo and has been a 114OPS+ or higher hitter in 3 of the past 4 seasons.

    the other is a 26yo that was a 126OPS+ last year, but in the 2 years prior hit 89 and 80 OPS+ respectively.

    Moving forward, it’s about whether or not Desmond regresses to his mean or figured something out last year. Either is possible. If he regresses, then the Nats might consider a trade in June or so. If not, then both teams would likely keep what they have.

  • mgbode

    that is fair.

  • vespo09

    Fair enough, although I personally like Cabrera more (and the switch-hitting is a nice boost). But this makes a Morse/Cabrera trade even less likely.

  • mgbode

    not yet, but I think out of our price range now.

  • mgbode

    hasn’t played well lately but he definitely should be on the possibility list for cheap DH’s.

  • @TheDeePagel

    Here’s the real question….the Nats need SP to put them over the top….and we were offering, or at least listening to deals involving Masterson. Now that’s a player the Nats may listen to about Morse.

    Question for us is this…..which option do you like more?:

    1. No Masterson: so a rotation of Jimenez, Myers, McAllister, Bauer and Huff/Kazmir/Carrasco…..and Morse at DH to make our lineup the best in the AL Central.

    or…

    2. Keep Masterson for a Masterson, Jimenez, Myers, McAllister, Bauer/Kazmir/Carrasco/Huff rotation…..and keep DH flexibility.

    This move is very realistic and most likely what Francona and Antonetti are evaluating.

    I’m not envious of them right now…

  • mgbode

    the other issue is Morse is a FA after 2013. w/o an extension, I’d take Masterson. with an extension, I’d take Morse (and immediately sign Zambrano/Young to a cheap deal).

    roll of the dice either way though. good one.

  • jmgatskiejr

    I like most of the moves outside of losing Canzler in lieu of Herrmann who always gets hit when up with big club and there are quite a few RH relievers waiting in the wings. Cody Allen, Trey Haley, Rob Bryson are all power arms waiting for a shot.
    Canzler has a nice stroke and I think given ABs he would have put up nice numbers. I don’t have a problem with the rotating DH idea in theory but I also don’t think giving guys a full day off in lieu of Aviles w Canzler at DH was a bad idea either.
    I also think losing Rondon in lieu of Neal may look bad in retrospect if his elbow is sound. McFarland may have had a big year but House has better stuff and is ahead of him in the FO’s eyes.
    Trading Esmil for Aviles and Gomes made even more sense after they picked up Albers and Shaw.